Archive for January, 2009

614: The HBI eZine just published its February issue and one of the articles is titled “Praying for a Spouse.” It is about a just-published book, The Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book, by Aliza Lavie, which features more than 100 years of Jewish prayers written by and for women. (Full disclosure – I have written for 614 in the past).

The article reprints three prayers for Jewish women seeking a spouse. Here is my favorite:

Based on the teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov

Loving God:
So numerous are
Those deprived of true love;
So many
Cannot find their match.
Have mercy upon them.
Source of love—
Every solitary, lonely soul
To experience the completion
That comes
with finding one’s match.

All I can say is WOW. Yes, this one is by a man, but he was man who knew the longing of a soul – male or female – in search of love. I plan to make this prayer part of my routine with my prayer beads. I can see it used on both the Anglican and Catholic form, on the cruciform and Our Father beads, respectively. It would also be a great prayer for the “love” bead on the Pearls of Life form of prayer beads. I do not think Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (an alternate spelling of his name), a great mystic who knew God’s love first hand, will mind.

Check out the article’s other prayers and if anyone gets a copy of this book, send in your favorite prayers, especially those that can be used on any kind of prayer beads.

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I am still resonating from the events of yesterday and still struck by how much religion and spirituality permeated the day. I came across this excellent essay outlining the religious imagery and references in the speech and placing them within the context of America’s long history of civil religion. The essay is by Jon Pahl, a professor of the history of Christianity in North America at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. And after you read the essay, explore the rest of this wonderful blog, Religion in American History, which is the product of a long list of prominent scholars of US religious history.

My favorite part of Pahl’s essay:

This was a speech about the spirituality of work. “What is required of us,” the 44th President intoned, “is a new era of responsibility–a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” The President here argued that it is through our common work that humans find spiritual fulfillment, this side of eternity.

This idea of the spirituality of work is not new. It is something common to many faiths – Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam – another link to Obama’s foundation in plurality.

And I, for one, needed a reminder that I can find purpose and elevation in tasks I sometimes think of as drudgery, from housework to my work as a writer. For a variety of reasons, January has not been a particularly productive month for me, but I hope to take from this speech a new purpose. I am lucky to be able to work, lucky for the gifts I’ve been given, both in the accident of my birth as an American and in the talents I have. It is time to start thinking about how I can rededicate my skills and abilities for others. As the president says, there is a deep spirituality in that.

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In my last post, I posed the question about the appropriateness of the content of Rick Warren’s invocation. Now we come to the benediction of Joseph Lowery, United Methodist pastor. You can read the entire text here.

I found myself laughing through my tears at this lovely prayer. The tears came the minute I recognized his first words as the lyrics of the great hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song that is especially dear to those who lived through the Civil Rights Era.  More tears flowed as I thought of what this one man has seen in his life – marches, assassinations of friends and colleagues, imprisonment, police dogs. And the laughter of joy came when I realized what Lowery must have seen right at that moment, looking out over the mall filled with people come to see a fellow African-American, seated at his right,  invested with the power of the highest office in the land.

Here is my favorite part:

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, first lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

What do you think? Did you – as I did – like that he named the houses of worship of several faiths? Did you hope he would pray in Jesus’ name, or did you approve of the fact that he called only on “the Lord”? Was his quotation from a Christian hymn okay for you?

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I was holding my breath when Rev. Rick Warren took the podium at Barack Obama’s inaugural ceremony today. I was waiting to see if the sometimes divisive evangelical Southern Baptist pastor of Saddleback Church would pray in the name of one religion or all religions.

As a religion reporter, I officially have no opinion on Warren. But as a person of faith, I feel rather on the fence about him. On the one hand, I deeply admire the work he has done in Africa on AIDS and poverty and the way he has fearlessly (for the most part) called on his fellow evangelicals to put down the banner of morality in favor of social justice. On the other hand, there’s his whole stance on homosexuals and gay marriage. I just cannot get on board with that.

For the first two-thirds of his prayer, I will admit that I was utterly enthralled. I suppose my expectations of his prayer were quite low. But I was struck by his depth of feeling and the way he called on God to care for and strengthen Mr. Obama, his family and the entire American people.

But would he say, “In Jesus’ name, we pray”? If he did, I was worried all of our non-Christian fellow Americans would feel excluded or marginalized – not something I feel should happen at a state-sponsored event. One of the virtues of this republic is its foundation on a separation of church and state.

I was partcularly moved by the following:

Now, today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hingepoint of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.Give to our new President, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

I thought he was gonna make it. And then he said:

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Was his use of “I ask” instead of “we ask” okay? Was this exclusionary and offensive? Or was this the only way a man who believes himself to have been saved by Jesus Christ could pray? WHAT DO YOU THINK?

And how about his inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer? By using this prayer taken from the New Testament and the words of Jesus, was he excluding our non-Christian fellow Americans? If you are a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist or anything else, I want to hear what you thought. How did you feel about Rick Warren’s invocation?

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john-calvinBuzzin’ around on the website of Calvin College (that’s namesake John Calvin at left) for a phone number of someone I need to interview, I found their prayer pages, complete with student questions (very sweet and heartbreaking, a few of them), and a compilation of  what the Bible says about prayer. Particularly helpful to the prayer bead user  – at least the Christian kind – is Centering Thoughts from Scriptural Prayers – The Psalms, which features more than a dozen one or two line Psalm passages suitable for prayer beads. My favorite –

“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, for to you, O Lord, I pray.”
Psalm 5

Also check out Classic Prayers, a compilation of famous prayersof great Christian thinkers from St. Francis to Gerard Manly Hopkins. Again, my favorite for prayer bead use, a portion of Clement XI‘s “Universal Prayer”:

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.
I worship you as my first beginning.
I long for you as my last end.
I praise you as my constant helper,

How great is that for a week of the Anglican rosary? You can add three more lines of your choice for a decade of the Catholic rosary.

Have fun exploring this great site. Know of any other ones – especially ones of other faith traditions – that might be of use to prayer beaders?

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Happy New Year all! I am sorry for the long time, no blog. I have been down with flu this whole week and am now behind in work, housework and everything else. Ugh.

A couple of days ago, I received a very nice comment from a man named Larry Gray in response to my much earlier post on Baha’i Prayer Beads. Here is a bit of what Larry had to say (to see the full comment, go to the original post and scroll down):

“I make prayer beads that are sold in Baha’i bookstores and I send them in “Vahids” [groups of 19, as Baha’i prayer beads have 19 beads] rather than dozens, just to help establish the tradition.

Baha'i Prayer Beads

Baha'i Prayer Beads

As to all [Baha’is] not using prayer beads – it is often that we haven’t established the habit of praying regularly. Baha’i is a gentle religion and we are not threatened with hellfire for not following our traditions. I am getting better as I grow older – hopefully a bit wiser. My knuckle counting friends tell me it is less distracting than beads. I see their point. I have beads made of seeds and seashells and semiprecious sonte and I love to look at and handle them.

I also do a display of prayer beads and prayer aids (tallit shawls, Native American prayer feathers, etc) from all the major religions. It is a visual feast at programs where I present them. It fascinates me how much in common they have.”

I like the fact that Larry seems to see the world’s religions much the way I do – that we all have much more in common than we have that separates us and that the very common use of prayer beads is an example of this. So I asked Larry, who says he was a Catholic before becoming a Baha’i, what he found was both the same and different about the Catholic rosary and Baha’i prayer beads. Here is a portion of his response:

Prayer beads are a fascinating tool in that they are so similar in the various religions, just as the religions themselves are more similar than different. All religions promote prayer, marriage, spirituality, peace, etc. What differs is the culture in which it lives, so marriage ceremonies, for example, are different around the world, but marriage is the same. Repetitive prayer helps us relax and communicate with the inner, spiritual self. The idea behind prayer beads is minimize the need to count prayers, a left brained function, and move into the more spiritual right brain where one is more likely to be moved and inspired.

Catholic (the major Christian sect until the middle ages) has had many styles of prayer beads called c[h]aplets, but by far the most popular has become the rosary. Lore has it that St. Dominic was given the rosary by the Blessed Virgin in a vision. Rosary comes from the Latin for rose and suggests that one is in a spiritual rose garden when praying the rosary. Other apparitions of Mary, such as at Fatima, also reinforce the importance of the rosary.

Baha’is, whose original culture comes out of the Moslem [Muslim] traditions also started out with 99 beads, but were soon given a set of 95 beads divided into five sets of nineteen beads each. Nineteen is the number of original believers named “Letters of the Living,” similar to Christian apostles. Nineteen of something, including these prayers is called a Vahid, named for the last member of the Letters of the Living. Baha’is recite the chant “Allah’u-Abha (God is Most Glorious) on each bead usually first thing in the morning. Interestingly, some Baha’is don’t need prayer beads. They find them distracting. Instead, they count on their knuckles and the tips of the fingers, adding up to nineteen.

You asked about the differences between Baha’i prayers and the Catholic rosary. The rosary has different prayers, ten of this, one of that, etc. One must think about where one is in the scheme of the beads, but is does give a pleasant musical rhythm to the process. Baha’i prayers are the same chant on all the beads, this being a more calming and less thoughtful and rhythmic experience. Needless to say, neither is better than the other, just different.

I must tell you, I have made and sold prayer beads for years, mostly Baha’i, some rosaries and others. Over the years, I have added a small strand of five beads onto the end of the ninety-five. The reason is that sometimes we chant some prayers in multiples of 100 and can use the extra beads to keep even. It has become popular with some other Baha’i bead makers as well, but darned if it doesn’t look a bit more like a rosary! I also sometimes say a slightly different prayer on each of the nineteenth beads. “You can take the boy out of the Catholic Church but you can’t take the church out of the boy.”

Thanks so much for this, Larry.If any of you live in Maine, you might go and see Larry present a talk on prayer beads this Sunday (MY BIRTHDAY!!!) for the Bahai’s of Eliot, Maine. BRRRRRR!!!!

Anyone else out there have something to say about two different prayer bead traditions that they have personal experience with? How are they the same and different? How has your experience with one informed your experience of the other?

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